a pomo parable

Evan Dara’s THE LOST SCRAPBOOK pp. 72-175

IMG_0045

This next part of the book is quite long but fast by virtue of its odd formatting. It’s a single narrative block which delivers the speech of a pirate broadcast that segues into an odd story set in a dense forest. By the end i think we’ve developed some of the ideas raised in the last section in a more abstract way, especially regarding the ways our social/economic climate keeps us isolated from each other, and the possibilities for communication or establishing some kind of connectedness.

St_John_the_baptist_-_Leonardo_Da_Vinci

SUMMARY

Our narrative block with the substitute history teacher on the talk show ends with

— OK…; OK, now I’m told — I see we have a caller now — yes…?; OK…; so hello; hello…; hello — are you there…?; no…?; yes…?; no…?; is someone there…?; no…?

and then after a break about 10 lines big:

…Well, in fact, yes…

…yes, there is someone there…

…yes, indeed

…There is someone here….

am here…

…I am right here…

…and so are you…

Bear in mind these lines are also separated by huge gaps. And this is how the next narrative block is delivered to us. It was a little scary at first bc i thought this was supposed to represent the text itself speaking directly at me or something cheesy like that. But it’s actually a voice addressing a great many people through a pirate broadcast delivered to all Walkmans within its radius.

Our announcer muses a bit on how all these Walkman wearers had been going about their mundane activities: shopping, working, reading; tasks which they are absent from. Now they are drawn into a shared moment. To hijack the Walkmans for a sermon is an attempt at subterfuge against all the corporatized mainstream bs from the Man. Their pirate equipment can be broken down in minutes and folded into an unsuspicious briefcase no bigger than a HAM radio.

Then the announcer reads the news:

The CDC has found that advertising causes cancer.

A “privately-funded communications institute associated with the Xerox Corporation” has announced a project to create energy from language.

Then the broadcast goes into “local news.” They inform us that they created a test signal to gauge the quality and range of its “throw.” The announcer had recorded themself reading an installation manual for a mobile wet bar, and played it back on a tape recorder on continuous loop. They then get into their car with a Walkman and drove out on I-80. They listen with some amount of pleasure to their own voice, the way it enunciates. The boring instructions are actually a good accompaniment to the scenery of endless plains and cornfields.

The announcer witnesses sees a horse looking into a barn window, various small towns. They catch themself talking along with the broadcast “in perfect mimetic synchronization.”

But then the announcer worries that the signal is coming through clear simply bc the interstate is so straight (maybe they’re in Nebraska?) so they go off the highway and into a forest to test the signal there. They drive into the forest until they see a middle-aged man in patched clothes, kneeling down, tapping his left arm on his collar bone and keeping his right hand up; the posture of Leonardo’s St. John the Baptist (pictured above).

The announcer leaves their Walkman and car and follows the man deeper into the woods. The man, who says cryptic things like “Can there be majesty without immodesty?” tells the announcer that he’s looking for a patch of lichen that looks like John Cage’s face. They cross a stream and take many turns in the forest, it becomes clear to the announcer that

the man’s intent endeavoring was evincing little in the way of method, or pattern…

…precious little…

…Indeed there was manifestly no method or pattern to it at all…

…The man was simply stamping around the bush…

At some point the announcer asks the man where they are, and he answers “We’re right here.”

The man also tells the announcer that he lives “in here,” as opposed to “out here” as we’d call it. The man says it keeps out the monotheists.

The man hates monotheists: they are the “sires of one-way time,” responsible for coordinates, hierarchies, industry, concept albums. He talks about Akhenaton of ancient Egypt, then a quote from Einstein, that “It is the theory which decides what we can observe.” The announcer points out that many polytheistic societies were also no models of virtuous behavior, also creating empires and slavery and caste systems, and that Akhenaton’s religion was cast aside after his death, to which the man doesn’t mount any counter-response.

And then the announcer realizes they are lost. They continue moving “into” the woods in hopes that in will lead to out, but for the first time they are a scared. But as they plunge into the woods, they find it:

a clump of white tree-fungus…

…hanging like a frozen froth from the bark…

…And its ripples and indentures, arrayed around its oval shape…

…made it, indeed, resemble…

…a human face…

But it looks to the announcer more like William Demarest than John Cage.

The man, some distance away, is unmoved by the discovery. The announcer now wishes to return to their car but has no idea how to even begin to locate it. The forest makes cardinal directions impossible.

…For all there was…

…for me…

…was undifferentiation…

…trees and undifferentiation…

…with a lump of anxiety in its midst…

…In other words…

…for me…

…the forest had a direct in…

…but not a direction out…

…an everywhere-center…

…and a nowhere-circumference…

But then the man points the announcer to their car, which is just behind a cottonwood.

Relieved and happy, the announcer piles into the car and plugs into the Walkman, only to realize that the signal has stopped.

The announcer has a sort of epiphany that the manufacturers of the tape recorder realized that no one really wants a tape to play back infinitely; that it would damage sound heads. They had put in a limiting circuit deep in the machine, without bragging about it in its promotion, “saving us from ourselves”.

They return home, enjoying the silence, and go on to create the broadcast we are reading now. They invite all Walkman listeners everywhere to start tapping their collarbones like St. John, a visual indication that the pirate broadcast has linked them together.

VOCAB

Porticullis, a strong, heavy grating sliding up and down in vertical grooves, lowered to block a gateway to a fortress or town.

Freebooter, a pirate or lawless adventurer.

Plosives, stop-consonants; the kinds of sounds usually associated with the letters p, t, k; b, d, g, in which air flow from the lungs is interrupted by a complete closure being made in the mouth.

Cauchemar, nightmare; comes from the Middle French.

COMMENTS

Because i have no discipline and often read stuff about novels before i read them, i already know what the main “plot” of the book is; rather, that it at least involves a naughty corporation and a Missouri town that it ravages, and that it doesnt really reveal itself until the last third or so. But the first direct references to corporatism are in this section in the “news,” which are linked to communications media, be it advertising or energy production. A pragmatic liberal would tell you that we’re not going to lower our energy consumption or demand anytime soon, so i guess mining speech would be a good idea.

The John Cage face in the tree lichen is by my count the third instance of music composers in the text after Philip Glass and Beethoven, and from my scan of the next section’s opening there’s gonna be more. Does it function as another interpretive key to the novel’s free-form method? If PG was about repetition and a kind of free-floating stasis created by minimalism and Beethoven had his theme + variations, i guess what i make from John Cage is a kind of avant-garde musical practice that shifts the role of instrumentation in a way that’s fundamentally humorous. Like, 4:33 is a really funny idea. And even though it is a piece of silence, it isnt really when it’s performed: the audience coughs or rustles, the tone of the room’s air becomes deafening, and whatever other outside noises that happen will contaminate the piece. That is, the venue and the audience become the instrument. (And it still demands an intense performance from the musician, who has to hold still in playing position.)

This might have something to bear on this section, the majority of which is empty space. Moreover, the space between the fragmented lines isn’t totally consistent (this is lost in my quotes above), so there is at least the hint towards significance in the blank parts of the page, in the silence between the text.

What i really hopped onto was the announcer’s notion of the forest as “an everywhere-center,” that resists mapping or spatial direction; the paradigm of neutral representation that undergirds Western culture and knowledge. The forest then is an alternative model of reality from the highway, which was a straight line. There is a lot of talk about this in pomo critical writing. Amy Elias and Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth in their own work trace a transition from a linear representation (Naturalism, Enlightenment, progress) to a spacial representation (the postmodern, quantum physics).

But our model of resistance to empiricism, the prickly dude who lives in the forest, is also completely isolated; perhaps he is a dead end as far as the novel’s moral project is concerned. The last bit of this section emphasizes the movement toward re-establishing connections to form a resistance against the tide of corporate advertising and the atomization of society. The pirate broadcast subverts the typical channels of entertainment, smashes through the barriers of individualism, and connects all its listeners through their Walkmen, devices usually associated with isolation and tuning out the world.

The end of previous section with the talk show was a kind of funny moment of failed communication, and by the end of this one, the announcer is almost scary in the way they dare the listener to run away from the message that is coming through against their will or that of the walkman. Is this coercive aspect a fundamental problem?

Next: mysteries, muffins, and more long monologues….

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s